THE SHARK ARM CASE, SYDNEY, 1935
By Tim Lambert
The Human Arm
The Shark Arm Case happened in Sydney, Australia in April 1935. Fishermen caught a 14-foot long live tiger shark. It was put on display in Coogee Aquarium but at about 5 pm on 25 April 1935 (Anzac Day) the shark regurgitated a tattooed human arm. The arm was well preserved and it had a tattoo of two boxers. It had a rope tied around its wrist. A medical examination showed it had been cut off not bitten off. The shark had eaten the arm at least 8 days before. Clearly, this was a case of murder, not an accidental death. But where was the rest of the body?
A man named Edwin Smith recognized the description of the tattoo and told police the arm might belong to his brother James. He had gone missing weeks before. The police were able to obtain fingerprints from the hand and they confirmed that it did belong to James Smith. He was a construction worker and a boxer. He was 40 years old. His wife had reported him missing on 8 April 1935.
Police found out that James Smith had last been seen drinking with a friend called Patrick Brady. Afterward, they went to a cottage hired by Brady. The owner of the cottage said that a mattress and a tin trunk had gone missing. The police thought that Brady murdered James Smith and placed his body in the tin trunk. Perhaps one arm wouldn't fit so he cut it off and tied it to the trunk. He then dumped the body in the sea but a shark swallowed the arm.
The police also found evidence that James Smith had worked for a man named Reginald Holmes. Holmes was a wealthy boat builder but he was also involved in drug smuggling. He admitted Smith had worked for him. However the two men had fallen out and, the police believed, Smith had been blackmailing Holmes. He was killed to silence him.
On 16 May 1935 the police arrested Patrick Brady. Then on 20 May Reginald Holmes was arrested. He now told police that Brady killed Smith. He said Brady brought the severed arm to his house and tried to blackmail him with it, threatening to kill him too if he did not pay a sum of money.
However on 12 June Reginald Holmes was found shot in his car. Without his testimony, there was not enough evidence to convict Patrick Brady. He was brought to trial in September 1935 but Mr Justice Jordan directed the jury to acquit him. Patrick Brady was formally acquitted on 12 September 1935. He died in 1965.
A History of Sydney